The peer and the puppet, p.28
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.28

           B. B. Reid
 

  “Babe…I wouldn’t be opposed to the girl on girl.”

  She quickly moved from the crook of Vaughn’s arm and faced him. “Are you freaking kidding me?”

  “Just a peck, and I’ll also return the favor of a dare.”

  With a scoff, she twisted around and gave Ever the kindest smile I’d ever seen her bestow on anyone. “And now we’re down to our last shot at chivalry. Ever?”

  “It’s already two out of three,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t think my vote counts much.” A sly grin then appeared on his face.

  “Fuck you, guys.” She started crawling across the cushions, and my eyes bucked when she headed straight for me.

  “Tyra, what are you doing?” I shrieked. My body tensed as I prepared to flee.

  “Relax. It’s not like we’re going down on each other.” She pressed her lips to mine, and in my peripheral, I saw Jamie staggering to occupy Tyra’s vacant seat. At the same time, I felt her tongue caress the seam of my lips and her soft hands brush over my shoulders and down my arms. Curious, I timorously kissed her back and found her lips soft and tasting faintly of berries.

  A groan and a softly spoken, “Fuck,” brought me hurtling back to reality. Vaughn slapped Jamie upside the head when we pulled away from each other.

  “All right! Time to pay up,” Tyra dictated as if nothing happened. “Any ideas, Four?”

  It took me a bit longer to recover, but the idea of payback sounded damn good. “I’d like to see Vaughn and Ever swap a bit of spit.”

  “The fuck?” Vaughn exploded. “Why not Jamie? He started the shit!”

  “And you went along with it,” Tyra argued.

  “I’m not making out with a dude,” Ever growled.

  “You promised anything we wanted,” she countered.

  “Those idiots did,” he spat back. “I didn’t promise a damn thing.”

  “Fine. I have an alternative dare, but only if all three of you swear to do it. I promise it won’t involve sword fights or bum fun.”

  “What is it?” Jamie questioned warily. It was funny how pale he looked since he was the one who started all this.

  “You don’t get to know that yet. Do we have a deal?”

  “Your woman’s a fucking cutthroat,” Jamie hissed at Vaughn, who didn’t bother responding.

  Tyra must have had as much trouble as I reading Vaughn’s mood because her confidence faltered when she offered him a shy smile.

  “Don’t worry, T-baby. I’m not the only one whose pants are fitting a little tighter.”

  A vicious snarl tore from Vaughn’s throat, and then he was snatching the bottle from Jamie with one hand and forcing his head back with the other before practically waterboarding him with rum.

  The bottle was nearly empty when Ever sighed and barked, “Enough.”

  I was beginning to wonder why Jamie insisted on provoking them. It was as if he was eager to take a beating. He never fought back even though I was more than sure he could handle himself.

  Vaughn tossed the bottle in a choking Jamie’s lap and then glared at Tyra and me. “Deal.”

  “So, what should we make them do?”

  After the movie ended, the guys took off. To run an errand they’d claimed. My guess was they were secretly running scared of what we’d make them do. Tyra and I were now holed up in my room in our PJs while Jay D was nestled in a ball at the foot of my bed.

  Tyra applied the last coat of nail polish and beamed at her freshly painted toes with satisfaction. “I thought I’d make Vaughn tattoo my name on his ass.”

  I barked a laugh, making Jay D’s ears perk. When he drifted back to sleep, I said, “Think he’d go for it?”

  “Hell no, but I can’t wait to see his face when I try to make him.”

  “Ever already has a tattoo,” I blurted. It was hard keeping all these secrets bottled inside. I always figured it was just a matter of time before they came spilling out. Besides…what was the point in having a BFF if you couldn’t confide in them?

  “Really?” Tyra’s whiskey gaze was now fixed on me. “He’s much too uptight for a tattoo. What is it, and most importantly, where is it?”

  I had a hard time swallowing, but when my throat was free of doubt, so were the words. “His gang. It’s tattooed on his back.”

  She slowly blinked. “Come again?”

  The deep breath I took was for courage, and the prayer was just in case. I didn’t want to betray Ever, but I needed to talk to someone. “Ever is Exiled.”

  “Ever McNamara?” she echoed. “Your Ever?”

  My Ever. “Yes,” I confirmed breathlessly.

  “And by Exiled you mean the murderous, raping, pillaging Exiled?”

  “That would be the one. I didn’t know you knew about them.”

  “Shit. Who doesn’t?”

  “I didn’t. Until one of them tried to kill me.”

  “Jesus, Four!” She scrambled to face me, forgetting about the still wet polish that now stained my bedspread. “Shit! Sorry.”

  I waved her off and hugged my knees.

  “How the hell did you get mixed up with them?”

  I gave her the short version. “When I was ten, Gruff took me under his wing. He taught me how to ride and fix bikes, and when his back was turned, I raced the fast ones for cash. I’m the reason Rosalyn and I left Cherry.”

  “You were one of them?” She looked disturbed by the idea.

  “Not a chance,” I quickly denied. “I went up against one of them during my last race. It didn’t end well when I tried to win. Not surprisingly, the Exiled are sore losers.”

  “Who’s Gruff?”

  “My old boss…and the only father I’ll ever have,” I wistfully replied.

  “Is he the one who gave you the bike?”

  “Yeah…he’s the best.” A wave of homesickness hit me, and I thought I’d drown in it until Tyra’s next question had me breaking the surface.

  “Why would Ever join Exiled?”

  “He said their leader has something that belongs to him. He didn’t say what.”

  I watched as Tyra digested the news. She shook her head, mumbled, and then shook her head some more. “How do you know all of this?”

  “I followed him into the woods after the first day of school. He keeps a car hidden back there with the clothes he wears whenever he does a job stashed inside.” I left out the part about me following him into the city and him holding Rosalyn’s fragile mind over my head to keep my mouth shut.

  “That’s why that Harlan guy called him Danny Boy, isn’t it?”

  I nodded.

  “Holy shit! I thought that was weird, but I figured it was some movie reference I didn’t get.”

  I shook my head, wishing it were that simple. “Ever becomes this whole other person, and it seems so real, like he’s two different people.”

  “I wondered why he was dressed like that the day you took me to meet Jay D. He usually looks he belongs on an Abercrombie ad. I figured he was trying to impress you or something.” Tyra flashed me a timid smile that I tried to return and failed. Miserably.

  “Ever’s going to get himself killed, and no matter what I say or threaten—” My voice broke, but I pushed through it. “I can’t talk him out of it, Ty.” I felt a tear slip from my eye and quickly wiped it away while cursing this newfound femininity. I liked the old era. Before Ever—excuse me—Everson fucking McNamara. I wasn’t this girl who cried over a boy and craved his kisses. I was the girl who could rebuild engines and make grown men cry.

  “I have to be honest,” Tyra spoke hesitantly. “I don’t know what to say.”

  “You really don’t know?” I gaped. “I was kind of hoping you could tell me what to do.”

  Tyra blinked, and I groaned as I banged my head against the headboard.

  “I do know I feel less awkward calling you my best friend now that I know more about you than your name. You’re a vault, Four Archer.”

  I stopped banging my head and kept my gaze firmly
cast on the bedspread as I let the guilt wash over me. There was still so much I hadn’t told Tyra.

  “I wonder what he’s looking for,” she mused. Just then, Tyra’s phone chimed, saving me from answering, and when she checked the message, a smile appeared. I was sure her cheeks would have been red if not for her rich mocha skin.

  “Vaughn wishing you sweet dreams?”

  “Nope. He sent me a pic of his one-eyed monster.”

  I was tempted to lean over and confirm that she was joking, but I didn’t want to risk it.

  There was another chime and then, “Now he’s wishing me sweet dreams.”

  “Is he staying over, too?”

  “I wouldn’t be surprised.” She suddenly looked excited and nervous at once. “I think he knows I’m ready. It’s like he sensed it and has been on edge ever since.” Her gaze turned pleading. “You’ve got to help me figure out how to seduce him.”

  “Why do you need to seduce him?”

  “Because I’d like to tell him I want him without making a fool of myself!”

  “As long as he wants you, that can’t happen, and he’s made it more than clear that he does.”

  She pouted. “I know all of that, but it can’t hurt to be sexy, right?”

  I sighed and thought about throwing in the towel when an idea popped into my head that had me jumping up from the bed. “I saw something in Jamie’s room when I was stealing his iPod that might help us.”

  “Us?”

  Shit. Well, the cat was pretty much out of the bag, so I shrugged. “I may be curious, too.”

  I made for Jamie’s room with Tyra on my heels. Once inside, I headed for his secret stash while Tyra looked around. We kept the lights off so we wouldn’t alert Jamie if they returned in the next few minutes.

  “I didn’t expect Jamie to be so cultural.”

  “Yeah, he’s really embraced his heritage.”

  “Is that Nicki Minaj?”

  I caught Tyra eyeing the poster of the mega rap star crouched with her legs spread, wearing only a sports bra, thong, and sneakers.

  “Yup.”

  I sifted through the stack of DVDs while she checked out Jamie’s wall of guitars.

  “I didn’t know Jamie played.”

  “I don’t know if he does or if he’s just a collector.”

  “You’ve never heard him play?”

  “No. Honestly, I don’t know much about him.”

  “I suppose he’s too busy pushing everyone’s buttons to talk about himself.”

  “And whenever I ask, he changes the subject or says something rude or perverted.”

  “Can you blame him?” Tyra questioned dryly. “The last girl he confided in was probably Barbette Montgomery, and we all know how that turned out.”

  Clutching a stack of discs, I rushed over and felt her forehead. “Did I just hear you defending Jameson Buchanan? I bet Satan is making figure eights right about now because hell has frozen over. I thought you couldn’t stand him.”

  “I don’t hate him. I want to muzzle him. He’s good people as long as Barbie isn’t in the room, on his mind, or the topic of conversation .”

  I nodded my agreement. One could always tell when Barbie was in Jamie’s head because that was when he was his most insufferable. Unfortunately for everyone, it was most of the time. I finally located the DVD suspiciously without a label and held it up triumphantly. “Got it!”

  She frowned at the white disc. “What is it?”

  “You’ll see.” I slid the DVD inside the console and grabbed the remote before plopping down on Jamie’s bed and patting the seat next to me. “Make yourself comfortable.”

  “Any reason we can’t watch whatever this is in your room?”

  “No TV, remember?”

  She was still standing, shifting from one foot to the other. “Well, what if they come back?”

  “They probably went to a party or something.” My stomach turned whenever I thought of Ever doing something Exiled related, so I chose to lie to myself.

  “You don’t seem convinced. You look like you’re about to hurl your dinner.” She finally sat and placed her hand on my back. “Is this about Ever being Exiled?”

  “I don’t like what knowing I could lose him does to me.” It was a foreign and unwelcome feeling. Cherry was home, but even there, I didn’t have friends who evoked such emotion. Mickey had been a business associate who needed me more than I needed him, and without my set of skills, he’d have never looked my way. Rosalyn was the weight I carried on my shoulders. She needed pills just to endure me, so whenever I thought about letting her go, the only relief I felt was for her sake. Gruff had many roles in my life: father, boss, mentor, and friend, but not even he had rallied this kind of feeling. What I felt for Ever was raw and intrinsic and…addictive.

  Aiming the remote at the TV, I pressed play. Music filled the silence and captured Tyra’s attention at the same time some tanned, busty blonde appeared on screen wearing a miniskirt, no panties, acrylic heels, and a pink crop top that read ‘Wet.’

  “Four…what is this?” Tyra questioned warily.

  “Porn.”

  “How did you even know he had porn?”

  “I’ve never lived with anyone but Rosalyn before. I got curious.”

  “You mean you snooped?”

  “It’s not as devious as it sounds. Some good can come from it. I learned who my father is by snooping.”

  We fell silent as we watched the girl on the screen attempt to seduce the boy next door, however, it was short-lived.

  “Did you watch the entire thing?”

  “I freaked and shut it off as soon as I realized what it was.”

  The dialogue was cheesy, and the guy was sporting a boner within a minute of meeting his new neighbor. Three minutes later, she was eagerly deep throating her unsuspecting victim. It seemed impossible how much she could fit in her mouth.

  “Ugh, I don’t—”

  A burst of light cut her off, and frustration shifted into horror. Jamie stood on the threshold of his bedroom with eyebrows raised. “I feel cheated,” he drawled.

  “What are you doing here?” I questioned as if this weren’t his room and his home.

  “I never left. Ever asked me to stay behind and make sure you weren’t up to no good, and I’m glad he did.”

  “He had you spy on me?”

  “I think his intentions were nobler than that.”

  What possible reason could Ever have to enlist Jamie as his watchdog?

  “Then where were you this entire time?”

  He rubbed his head with a groan. “Passed out, I think.”

  It was then that I noticed he was barely holding himself up.

  “Jesus, Jamie. Lie down.”

  With a sly smile, he answered, “Only if I get the middle.” He stumbled inside, and after dropping onto the bed between Tyra and me, he focused lazy eyes on the TV screen. “This is my favorite part.”

  I don’t think any of us breathed the entire time we watched the innocent boy next door stuff his mammoth cock inside the seductress’ ass.

  Jesus. Would Ever expect that? It seemed impossible, yet the evidence was in high-definition on a fifty-inch screen.

  “Yeah…love a cock up a nice ass,” Jamie casually reflected while I tried not to panic.

  “Jesus, Jamie!” Tyra slammed one of his pillows against the side of his head. “I’ll be in your room,” she gritted before fleeing the room. Not long after, the slam of my bedroom door echoed down the hall.

  “Your friend has a stick up her ass,” he said as he lay back with one arm behind his head and the other across his stomach.

  Twisting around to face him, I shot him a withering look as I crossed my legs under me. “Or maybe you need to tell Barbie how you feel and give the rest of us a break.”

  Voice flat and eyes dull, he said, “She knows how I feel.”

  “I was there yesterday, remember? You treated her like she meant nothing to you.”

 
“As I said…she knows how I feel.”

  I shook my head with a sad sigh. For some reason, I believed Ever when he said there was nothing real between him and Barbie. Did that make me a fool, or was Jamie just blind and stubborn? “You don’t fool me, Jameson.”

  He groaned, then said, “I told you only my mother calls me Jameson.”

  “Well, what about James? Do I get to call you that?”

  His eyes flashed before he averted them. “What?”

  “Barbie called you James, and you didn’t bitch about it.” He didn’t respond, so I poked some more. “And you called her Bette.”

  “You must have heard wrong.”

  Yeah, right. I know what I heard.

  “James and Bette sitting in a tree…” I sang. I was about to get to the part where they started kissing when Jamie shoved me off his bed. I hit the floor with a yelp and burst out laughing despite my aching back. When I sat up, Jamie was on his back again, looking like nothing had happened. “Fine,” I huffed as I stood to my feet. “I know when I’m not wanted.”

  He smirked as he watched the porn still playing on his TV with a sudden disinterest.

  I started for the door, but a thought had me turning back. “Despite your differences, you know Ever better than anyone.”

  His heavy sigh filled the room. “Yeah.”

  “What are the chances I can change his mind about finding Fox?” I didn’t need to question if Jamie knew about Ever being Exiled, but him jackknifing into a sitting position told me Ever hadn’t been as forthcoming with him as I thought.

  “How do you know about that?”

  “I followed him a month ago.”

  “Does he know?”

  I nodded, not caring to go into detail. “He’s been blackmailing me.”

  “Oh, man,” Jamie cackled. “You two are made for each other.” He shook his head and stared at me with equal parts pity and amusement.

  “So do you think I can talk him out of going after Fox?”

  “Not a chance in hell,” he answered soberly.

  I huffed my frustration at Jamie ripping away the last bit of hope I had. “Even if it meant we could never be together?”

  Jamie shook his head, the warning in his eyes clear. “Don’t give him that ultimatum unless you’re prepared to lose.”

  “I can live without Ever.”

 

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